""I am scarcely old, but I think/ old,"" Wilson's speaker decides in ""Purgatorio"": Wilson's restrained and accomplished third book of poems presents the virtues and flaws of work decades older than his. In sonnets, careful trimeters, restrained dramatic monologues, and meditations on history, domesticity and war, Wilson resurrects the quietly gifted formal poets of the 1940s and '50s. (He seems especially close to William Meredith.) Deceptively almost-ordinary phrases, resolute in their compression and tact, do for Wilson (Kingdoms of the Ordinary) what would take most other poets several sentences: on a snowy suburban morning, ""... the children/ scuttle like turned leaves""; a beach crab ""shines, and the moon/ picks him for her bauble."" The animals in ""A Minor Bestiary"" understand human emotions better than most people: ""If you have quarreled with the woman/ you love, the crows indict you./ Call her, they chorus, confess... who have never cried down/ a soft apology in their lives."" Monologues in well-handled short lines present the grown daughter of a Nazi officer, a National Guardsman who fired at Kent State, a future American soldier on the Moon, all with convincing deliberateness and psychological acuity. Like his mid-century precedents, Wilson can stray into ponderous phrasemaking: we hear of ""all the body's ends,"" ""the muttering of her mortality,"" ""the subtleties of God's simpler work,"" even of men ""risking themselves to learn/ what beauty tells."" (Wilson's treatment of straight male desire can get bathetic, but it can also display hard-won self-knowledge.) Wilson is at his most concise and most eloquent when trying least to be so. His poems will startle, or dazzle, almost no one; readers will instead and with reason call them well-made, weighty, subtle and sometimes wise. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/29/1999 Release date: 12/01/1999 Genre: Fiction
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